7 Transgender Role Models You Should Know About

Breaking Ground in Non-Traditional Ways

A lot of people feel alone in the world. This can be particularly true for transgender teens who may not know anyone else in their situation. But there are actually a lot of inspiring transgender individuals out there.

While the people below might not all seem like "role models" in the traditional sense, (I don't think any of them are going to be telling you to stay off of drugs in the near future) they are definitely paving the way for trans youth.

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Sylvia Rivera: Activist

Sylvia Rivera & Friend at Gay Pride
Sylvia Rivera & Friend at Gay Pride. Image (c) Jim Fouratt

Sylvia Rivera was a transgender woman who dedicated her life to activism. She fought for a New York City transgender rights bill, as well as for a trans-inclusive New York State sexual orientation non-discrimination act.

Rivera was also a passionate advocate for homeless GLBT youth, having experienced periods of homelessness herself (the first time at only 11-years-old!).

Rivera died in 2002, but her legacy lives on. New York City's GLBT youth shelter, Sylvia's Place, is named in her honor, as is the the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization which fights for transgender legal rights.

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Kate Bornstein: Writer & Performance Artist

Kate Bornstein, Transgender Writer
Kate Bornstein, Transgender Writer. Photo (c) Dona Ann McAdams

Kate Bornstein is an author and performance artist who defies many standard gender expectations.

Kate has written that, "I know I'm not a man--about that much I'm very clear, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably not a woman either, at least not according to a lot of people's rules on this sort of thing. The trouble is that we live in a world that insists we be one or the other--a world that doesn't bother to tell us exactly what one or the other is."

Kate's most recent book "Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws," is directed at youth and tackles everything from bully culture, to (as the tile indicates) alternatives to suicide for kids who might not otherwise see a way out.

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Michelle Dumaresq: Competitive Mountain Bike Racer

Michelle Dumaresq, a Transgender Mountain Bike Racer
Michelle Dumaresq, a Transgender Mountain Bike Racer. Image (c) Marina Dodis

Michelle Dumaresq is a mountain bike racer from Vancouver, Canada. Michelle has faced questions over her legitimacy to participate in women's competitions as a transwoman, and has endured harassment from fellow competitors. In one incident, the second place winner in a race wore a T-Shirt on the podium which read: "100% Pure Woman Champ."

Michelle spoke about challenges like these in a series of published emails. As she said, "I was at the center of quite a controversy. You see it's ok in our society to be differently gendered (at least here in Canada). But when someone like me takes up competitive sport a few eyebrows get raised."

Despite these challenges, Michelle continues to compete, even racing for the Canadian National Team.

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Laverne Cox: Activist and Actress

Laverne Cox is a transgender actress best known for playing Sophia, a transgender prisoner in the TV series, Orange is the New Black. Cox is a sought after speaker and has dedicated much of her work to increasing awareness about trans issues.

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Murry Hill: Entertainer

Murray Hill
Murray Hill. Image (c) Murray Hill, Photo by Roberto Portillo

Though he refers to himself an entertainer, the comedian and variety show host Murray Hill often gets billed as a drag king.

You might not know exactly what to call Murray's profession, but you should know that he is one of the first performers of his kind to get recognition in an arena that had traditionally been dominated by drag queens.

When I interviewed Murray a few months ago, he reminisced about the bad old days:

"When I was in high school, no one had even heard of the word lesbian, or trans, or any of those terms that are now part of our cultural vocabulary. We didn't have school groups, parent groups, TV shows, the internet, or any visible support. The only thing I knew about being gay was when the other kids made fun of me!"

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Mek Potts: Cartoonist

A Panel from Between the Lines
A Panel from Between the Lines. Image (c) M. Potts

Mek Potts is a 24-year-old transexual cartoonist, based in North Carolina.

Along with a team of artists, Potts has created the web-comic, Between the Lines, which follows the paths of a group of transgender teens.

Of her experiences as a teen, Potts told the San Francisco Bay Times, “I came out when I was 17 even though I had an intense fear of [my parents] kicking me out. That never happened. I was lucky that I just had to endure a few years of doing nothing but arguing with my mother. She came around eventually.”

Potts has drawn on her own experiences as a teen, as well as on the experiences of her friends for inspiration in her comic.

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Casey: Video Diarist

Casey Identifies as a Pre-Op FTM Transgender Teen.
Casey Identifies as a Pre-Op FTM Transgender Teen. Image (c) Casey

If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a transgender high school student, 17-year-old Casey can give you a little insight.

Casey identifies as a pre-op FTM transgender teen and for the past year he has been posting YouTube videos about everything from the reactions of his Jewish youth group, to his feelings about his body, and what it's like when someone close to him tells him he will never really be a man.

30 videos are already available, and Casey continues to create new ones regularly.